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Recording of the month

To be a composer

Benjamin Lees'
Symphony No 4 -
appreciated by RON BIERMAN

'... Buswell's playing is consistently rich and beautiful.'

Benjamin Lees: Symphony No 4 'Memorial Candles'. © 1999 HNH International Ltd

<< Read from the start of Ron Bierman's Lees feature

Lees' Fourth Symphony was written for and premièred by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Naxos recorded it as part of its American Classics series. We can be certain the Cold War is over when the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine is able to rehearse and record a solid performance in just two weeks. The piece is subtitled 'Memorial Candles' and its subject is the Nazi Holocaust. For those unfamiliar with Lees, it is a good, though harrowing introduction. Settings of the powerful verse of Nelly Sachs are at the heart of the work. Sachs won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966 and Lees had long known he would eventually find an appropriate setting for words that had affected him so deeply.

The work is in three movements. The first is over twenty minutes in length and could be a standalone piece. In context it is an ominous instrumental prelude to the verse settings of the succeeding movements. The first theme appears in the woodwinds [listen -- track 1, 0:00-1:17]. Development begins immediately and leads to a climax preceding the second theme which is stated in the basses. The two themes undergo intense and continuous development for the remainder of the movement, with frequently varied instrumentation. In this excerpt, violinist James Buswell concentrates on the second theme in a mini-cadenza [listen -- track 1, 14:55-16:28]. The solo violin suggests Jewish folk music throughout the symphony and Buswell's playing is consistently rich and beautiful.

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Copyright © 3 September 2003 Ron Bierman, San Diego, USA


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